Just eaten the first prickly pear of the season. Delicious. I’ve more than likely written about prickly pears before but nevertheless here I go again. Apart from buying Chris a bottle of prickly pear liqueur in Italy some years back I never thought of the fruit as anything other than edible but in fact I read, like most fruits, there are all sorts of things you can get up to both with the fruit and its juice so guess, as there are so many this year, the plant has grown simply enormous, and most of them will end up on the ground, maybe we should try a few recipes.
As it is a cactus what does one call it apart from a plant? It’s not a tree, it’s not a bush and it can hardly be called a shrub. There are evidently a number of species, about 200 in all, and in one American state they are protected, goodness only knows why when you can’t stop the damn things from growing and multiplying. I did get rid of two some years ago and this one really should be cut back heavily but that creates yet another problem – how to get rid of the cuttings they are so large and you can’t burn them they‘re so wet. If you leave one lying on the ground it will sneakily push out some roots and a new plant will grow. Tenacious buggers is what they are and, if it weren’t for the fact that I love prickly pears, I would be tempted to get an Albanian in to get shot of it completely. In Australia they call it the most invasive weed ever (never thought of calling it a weed and in NSW the Prickly-pear Destruction Commission was formed in 1924, continuing right through until it was disbanded 31 December 1987 - some 63 years later. In Queensland they tried getting rid of them with the cactoblastis caterpillar with some success.
There has been medical interest in the Prickly Pear plant. Some studies have shown that the pectin contained in the Prickly Pear pulp lowers levels of "bad" cholesterol while leaving "good" cholesterol levels unchanged. Another study found that the fibrous pectin in the fruit may lower diabetics' need for insulin. Both fruits and pads (so that is what the leaves are called, pads of paddles: logical) of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibres that help keep blood sugar stable.Of coursed the prickly pear has been food in South America for a great many years and in Mexican folk medicine its pulp and juice have been used to treat numerous maladies, such as wounds and inflammations of the digestive and urinary tracts. It is also the basis of alcoholic drinks. The cochineal scale insect that feeds on it is used for cochineal dye and the gel-like sap might be useful as a hair conditioner. Some species also produce the mind-altering drug mescaline and I reckon that’s enough about prickly pears for this time.
The pomegranates are almost ripe and fresh lychees are in the greengrocers. Of course they’re expensive, 7 euro a kilo as opposed say to oranges 10kilos for 5euro. I remember even in South Africa as a boy how expensive lychees were and were bought sparingly. Pity. I love them. My mother would drive us down to the South Beach in Durban where we would sit in the car and eat lychees. And still on the subject of fruit, friends have a mango tree in their garden. It is still quite small, only about five foot tall but it is fruiting. The fruit is small, half the size of what one knows as a mango, but we have tasted some and they are delicious. If I had known one could grow a mango here I most certainly would have done so but I read it takes eight years for one to fruit so doubt I’ll be around to enjoy it. However Douglas has dried out some pips and intends planting them. Bananas and avocados grow on Crete. Maybe we could try lychees at the same time.